In the pantheon of unwelcome messages delivered to finance chiefs, “We forgot to bill the client” is number five (right between “J.J. smeared pudding all over your Treo” and “Legal says you got a notice from some guy named Wells”). When Campus Televideo president and CFO Brian Benz found out that the company’s accounting department had failed to invoice a large university for a cable TV project, he cringed. Apparently, an internal-communications gap had left the accounts-receivable manager clueless about the six-figure contract. Says Benz: “It’s difficult to go to a customer and say, ‘We forgot to bill you for a couple of months. You owe us for three months of service.’”
Keen to avoid a replay of the billing snafu, Benz turned to a technology called Really Simple Syndication (RSS). Fitted to Campus Televideo’s Salesforce.com software (by Spanning Partners LLC), the RSS system automatically sends E-mail notifications to pertinent Campus Televideo employees whenever a new or updated contract or purchase order is uploaded. “By making sure the process is 100 percent automated,” notes Benz, “I never have to think about whether the right people are informed.”
RSS is nothing new to new-media types. Bloggers have been using the filtering device for several years now, culling relevant news articles for their Websites. Some corporations have embraced RSS as well, adapting the technology to deliver podcasts to shareholders (see “Pod People” at the end of this article) and headline updates to custom portals like My Yahoo. Now, business managers like Benz are discovering that RSS can be tailored to push real-time information to employees and partners.
Please Ping Me
The beauty of RSS is that it is based on the extensible markup language. With XML (essentially a code for describing data), information can be readily shared across different systems and platforms. Any information published in XML — including data found in many enterprise applications — can be delivered via RSS. In fact, some business-software vendors are beginning to add RSS features to their applications. In addition, homegrown programs with data-import and -export capabilities can be easily modified to send and accept the feeds.
Typically, relevant data is funneled straight to other applications or to aggregators (also known as readers). Many browser-based or desktop aggregators are free. For-sale readers are generally more robust, allowing users to create triggers for alerts. Often, the alerts are sent directly to E-mail programs or smart phones.
Server-based offerings, which allow for centralized control over feeds and access, are also available. These enterprise systems, from vendors like Newsgator Technologies and KnowNow, run $30 to $80 per user per month. Says Ray Valdes, research director, Internet platforms, at Gartner: “If it’s done right, the costs of adding RSS become basically invisible.”
All kinds of internal reports can be syndicated using a server-based RSS. For example, a business can feed accounting data to customers for streamlined billing. On the other side of the ledger, alerts can be created to ping a company’s CFO whenever a past-due notice enters the system. “The concept behind RSS,” says Ron Rasmussen, KnowNow’s chief technology officer, “is that it’s better for data or content to notify you of change than for you to have to go looking for it.”